- The Washington Times - Tuesday, July 22, 2003

GREENSBORO, Ga. — The pressure of heightened expectations after two bowl seasons doesn’t worry Maryland Terrapins coach Ralph Friedgen.

His Terps return 15 starters from a team that gave a rising program credibility last season with a 30-3 thrashing of traditional power Tennessee in the Peach Bowl.

But can the Terps continue the two-year rise they have enjoyed since Friedgen rescued a program that was more than a decade in decline? Can they replace departed All-American linebacker E.J. Henderson and All-ACC running back Chris Downs?

And, in the longer term, can the Terps compete in an ACC that will be transformed from an also-ran conference into a national powerhouse with the addition of the Miami Hurricanes and Virginia Tech Hokies?

Friedgen spoke with The Washington Times at the ACC Kickoff meetings here yesterday:

Q: You’ve raised expectations after two standout years. Fans are now wondering whether Maryland can go undefeated? Does this team have that potential?

A: I’ve won a national championship (as a Georgia Tech assistant in 1990). I know what it takes. It’s not all talent. Everything has to go right for you. We have more talent this year than we’ve had in the past two years, but we’ve won because we played unselfishly as a team.

The intangibles maximized our potential and we’re going to have to do the same thing this year. Are we making progress? Yes. Am I disappointed people are thinking [of a national championship]? No.

Q: After winning 21 games in two years, does the program still have to prove it’s among the nation’s elite?

A: When I came here, the attitude was ‘We’ll wait to see what you do.’ The apathy was tremendous. I had left in 1986 (as a Maryland assistant to become a Georgia Tech assistant) and we were pretty good in the ‘80s so it was a shock to me that we didn’t have credibility. I expect our program to be a top 20 team annually and one of those years when everything goes your way you have a chance to win it.

Q: How important was beating Tennessee in the Peach Bowl to establishing credibility?

A: Beating Tennessee was a very big step. … I think we’re gaining respect nationally. I know a lot of people have Maryland circled on their schedule.

Q: What impact will adding Virginia Tech and Miami next year have on the ACC?

A: The addition of Florida State [in 1991] has definitely raised the ACC as a league. Miami and Virginia Tech will do the same thing. I just wish we had taken one other team so we would have a playoff because that’s what it’s going to come to anyway.

Q: Is Florida State still the one to beat despite their offseason troubles?

A: We haven’t beat them so until we do that they’re the team to beat. If we’re fortunate to beat them, I know Virginia is looking for us. N.C. State, Clemson and Georgia Tech are looking for us.

Q: Like last year, it seems the ACC title could come from Maryland, Florida State, N.C. State or Virginia. You only get Virginia at home. How does the conference stack up?

A: We’re supposed to be known as a basketball conference, but there were more teams in the top 20 in football last year than basketball. Now add Miami and Virginia Tech and we’ll have six teams in the top 20. I don’t know if there’s another conference in the country that can say that.

Q: The ACC has eight returning quarterbacks and six of its top seven running backs returning. Are there going to be more high-scoring games leaguewide?

A: Our defense is pretty solid. Florida State has nine returners on defense. It’s going to be a pretty competitive league all the way around.

Q: What can quarterback Scott McBrien do now that he has a year’s experience in your system?

A: With Scott maturing and knowing our system better, we finally got our whole playbook in. We want to play to his strengths. He’s the barometer by which we go. Last year, we cut it back and got on a roll and added a little more this spring. I’m anxious to see how this works out.

Q: Running back Bruce Perry returns from an injury-riddled season? Do you envision him rebounding to his 2001 Offensive ACC Player of the Year level?

A: I’m very proud of Bruce. I think he’s really matured as a person. Through the adversity he had he has grown up. He worked very hard in spring practice. He probably had 15 of the most productive practices I’ve seen him have. He’s bigger, strong and I hope faster. … One of the things I love about college football is the impact on kids lives.

You get to see them mature and grow up. They go from boyhood to manhood. Here’s a guy that didn’t always make me a happy camper. Now he has goals and aspirations he wants to accomplish. I know this sounds corny, but I feel like a proud father whose kid has grown up and has a chance at life. My coaches had a factor in that. I think I had a factor in that. You don’t get that in pro football.

Q: Returner Steve Suter missed spring practice with knee surgery. Can he still play wide receiver regularly or will he remain more of a special teamer?

A: He had two semesters back to back where he had a 4.0 [grade point average], so he can learn things. I’m anxious to see how he comes back.

Q: Tight end now has Jeff Dugan returning, Rob Abiamiri moving from receiver and Vernon Davis coming from high school. What will that do to defenses?

A: Jeff Dugan is the best blocking tight end in the league. Moving Rob gives you another dimension as a receiver. He has 4.5 [second] speed and is 240 pounds. Vernon, at first I thought he would be a tight end, but after watching him I’m not sure he can’t be a wide receiver. We have to find a place for him.

Q: Defensively, what’s life after All-American middle linebacker E.J. Henderson going to be like? Does D’Qwell Jackson move from the outside effectively?

A: D’Qwell is not as big as E.J. [by 25 pounds] so that’s a concern. Reggie Holmes has developed. We have four guys competing for that spot.

Q: Middle linebacker Wesley Jefferson was the blue-chip high school recruit on everyone’s list. However, you’ve said true freshmen often have trouble in their first season. What’s his expected role?

A: You have to be careful. With the Internet it’s much more visible than the past. You don’t want to put so much pressure on these kids so if they’re not ready to play they feel like they’ve failed. All I ask is to come in and do the best they can and if they’re ready we’ll play them and if not we’ll red shirt them. I don’t think a freshman should ever feel like they’ve failed.

Q: You’re getting around well with just a cane following hip replacement surgery in May. Are you ready for camp on Aug. 4?

A: It’s difficult for me because I’m very impatient. The cane takes just enough pressure off that my leg doesn’t have to deal with my whole body weight. I hope I won’t need it when two-a-days start, but if I do, I do. I’ll use the golf cart on the field and probably coach more from the tower. I have to adjust.

Q: Your loyalty to your alma mater Maryland has been a regenerating force among alumni. However, a standout season could bring NFL offers. Is Maryland your final career stop?

A: I’m happy enough. Where else can you go with a chance to be so successful?

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